For writing this article, I decided to do some research on Americans’ most common New Year’s resolutions. I discovered that, without exception, they were all health–related. Some of them more explicitly so, for example: exercising more; losing weight; eating better; quitting smoking; quitting drinking. Others were: spending more time with family and friends; getting out of debt; reducing stress. These latter are health related because, when not followed, they take a toll on a person’s energy, happiness, and even strength against disease.
These are all excellent resolutions. It’s commendable for anyone to have goals like the above, which have clear positive ramifications for yourself and for those around you. But there’s more to the story. Most of these resolutions do not last. We joke about how quickly we go back to our old habits, and resolve to try again next year. Laziness, or lack of willpower, is often seen as the culprit. Sometimes, no matter how earnest the resolution, we simply don’t see the way to make it happen.
I think that most of these resolutions are resolutions in the first place because they are difficult — otherwise, we’d just do them! They are difficult because there’s something about our current way of life, which we say we’d like to change, that we nevertheless can’t afford to give up. Whether it’s smoking, working too much, eating a lot of sugar, or whatever, each of these “bad habits” has its advantages. That’s why so many of the solutions offered by companies are designed to help you change without giving up the advantages. They come out with foods that are healthier but nevertheless taste as deliciously unhealthy as the sugar– or fat–laden food you’re trying to quit. There’s something about that taste that we need. Or, in terms of spending more time with the family, maybe we don’t have the option of working less. Maybe we don’t even know what it would mean for us if we “exercised more.” We’re a little too quick to blame ourselves for failing at our resolutions, without thinking about just why we’re struggling.
I know that for me, and for clients I’ve helped, eating healthy food, to take an example, is no longer something we have to “resolve” every year. That’s not because we’ve finally conquered our stubborn resistance and can force ourselves to do it. Once you have a little practice cooking, and get to try eating better for a while, the body’s cravings change. You want brown rice instead of white rice, and you miss the flavor and peaceful feeling it gives you when you don’t eat it for a while. Eating junk food becomes something done out of habit more than out of real desire. But this sort change can only happen when the healthy diet is well–rounded and balanced enough to give the body everything it needs.
My philosophy of cravings is that a behavior like smoking, drinking, or unhealthy eating is not the problem, but rather our attempt to find a solution to different problem. Most people I know who eat too much sugar (including me) eat it during a time of stress. If there wasn’t the sugar, what would we do about the stress? It probably wouldn’t be very pleasant to watch. Sometimes the first step towards changing those bad habits is to ask yourself: how is this bad habit helping me? Maybe the original problem isn’t even there anymore, but the addictive quality of the substance keeps us on it regardless.
I think we make these resolutions because we know in the end they will make us feel good, live longer, and be happier. But we can’t just ignore what got us into these bad habits in the first place. Through a superhuman effort someone may be able to cram regular exercise into an already busy life; but they might be better off wondering why they are so busy in the first place and what in life they can get rid of. Sometimes it’s scary to start addressing the real source of your cravings. Actually, it’s almost always scary, and that’s not necessarily bad. The thing I would suggest is to talk to someone about it. One of the best steps you can take is find someone to support your desire to change and improve your life. Don’t talk to people who discourage you (and these sorts are everywhere); find someone who thinks what you’re doing is great. Broken New Year’s resolutions aren’t a sign of personal weakness; it may just be a sign that it’s time to look more deeply into what’s getting in your way.
As a health counselor it’s my job to support people who wish to make many of the changes listed above. If you feel that it’s a good time to review your health goals and look into new strategies for making them attainable, call me and I will be happy to do a free consultation with you. Any time is a good time to start getting happier and healthier. Wouldn’t it be great to say that this was the year you kept all your new year’s resolutions and never felt better in your life?